07 December 2016


Heavy Duty Kitchen Shears

Multi-purpose cutters

[This review is from an edited transcript of our interview with Gareth Branwyn on the Cool Tools Show — MF]

When I moved into a house in 1999, the owner left it filled with tools from the 1950s. Everything was very high quality. In the kitchen’s top drawer there was a strange pair of scissors, called “nutcracker scissors,” because they have a serrated area inside the handle that looks like it was made for cracking nuts. It actually isn’t. It was made for twist-off bottle tops, but you could also crack nuts with it. The scissors are basically a kitchen multitool of the 1950s. They’re really optimized. Everything is thought through, and they have a lot of little gadgets on it. There’s a bottle opener. There’s a little tab on the thumb hole, which I eventually learned was for lifting the seal on Ball jars. On the outside of the finger hole there’s a flat surface. I think that’s just a little hammer for maybe tamping down the jar lid before you do canning.

[Kevin has a similar pair. Here are his comments, also from the episode]: “They live in our kitchen drawer. We use them for cracking crab, for anything you need to crush, for opening bottles, for cutting through things that you’re gonna eat. Sometimes we use it instead of a knife — we’ll cut things up instead of a knife, like shearing vegetables.”

12/7/16 -- Gareth Branwyn

06 December 2016


Boogie Board

Replacement for paper, scratch pads and sticky notes

I’ve had this for almost a year, and it has completely eliminated the mess of sticky notes I had accumulating all over my desk and monitor at work. It is a screen on which I write all my notes and to-do lists for the day. You use a simple stylus to write anything you want on it. Whatever you write on it stays until you hit the button that erases the whole screen.

The battery never needs replacing, and while it’s LCD technology, it seems a lot like e-ink, feels a lot like writing on paper, and if I want to save an idea long term, I snap a picture with my phone.

It’s light, easy to travel with, good for doodles, and inexpensive. Put it on the fridge, use it for work. Share a note with a loved one, play tic tac toe while waiting for a wedding to start.

12/6/16 -- Ryan Peeler

05 December 2016


Lansky Deluxe 5-Stone Sharpening System

Sharpens your knife to the exact bevel you specify

If you are like me you have a bunch of kitchen knives that have slowly become unusable due to their dull blades. Using honing steel only lasts so long, and is not a replacement for a sharpener.

The Lansky Knife Sharpener gives you a precision knife sharpener that is as simple as it is easy to use, at a reasonable price. I have owned the knife sharpener for a few months now and have used it to sharpen a number of my knives.

The key to the Lansky system is how simple it is to operate. A couple of whet stones may be able to sharpen your knives better, but a beginner like myself who is not confident in being able to maintain a consistent angle will fail or might damage my cutlery. This is where the Lansky Knife Sharpener has a clear advantage. It provides you a guide which will maintain a consistent angle. You have the option to pick an angle at 17, 20, 25, or 30 degrees, depending on the type of work the knife is doing.

To use the Lansky Knife Sharpener you clamp the knife into the holder, attach the sharpening stone to the guide, put the guide through the hole marked with the desired angle, and put the stone to the knife. You then work through the desired grit to sharpen your knives. The Lansky Knife Sharpener is not perfect. Some people think the clamp could be improved. But I prefer the simplicity of the clamp — one less thing to fail with a potential sharp knife in your hand.

There is also an issue with the guides not being 100% straight from the factory, but all you need to do is put the stone flat on a table and slightly bend the guide till it’s straightened.

Again this is a very simple tool. No moving parts, no electricity required, nothing to fail. You can’t compare the Lansky system to one of the cheap pull through knife sharpeners. Those cheap sharpeners will chew up your knives leaving you with big chips in the metal. Trust me, I have ruined my fair share of knives by trying to make them better. Luckily I was able to salvage these broken knives with the Lansky Knife Sharpener. I was able to remove the chips that my previous knife sharpener created with the coarse grit, then put on a sharp edge by moving up to a fine grit.

It’s been said that a sharp knife is a safe knife. I took my old unsafe knives and made them safe, as good as new knives with the use of this cool tool.

12/5/16 -- Patrick Sawyer

05 December 2016


Cool Tools 2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Mark’s Picks

Favorite gift ideas from the editor-in-chief of Cool Tools

This month and next month, we are presenting a series of gift suggestions selected from the pages of Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities (which itself makes a great gift), and from the website. This week: Mark’s picks.

I have used a Kik-Step rolling stool ($56) for at least 15 years. Its design is simple and brilliant. Without any weight on it, you can roll it around easily. But with a bit of downward pressure, the round bottom rim hits the floor and it becomes a stable stepping stool. The slanting body design helps it avoid damaging walls and bookcases. — Bruce Oberg

If Raymond Loewy designed a scoop, it would look like the DuraScoop Cat Litter Scoop ($13) (maybe the handle wouldn’t be covered with textured plastic). Cleaning cat litter is an unpleasant daily chore for me, but the DuraScoop makes it much less unpleasant. I’m surprised it is only $13. It’s easily worth three times the price. — Mark Frauenfelder

I’ve found that the Grace Digital Wi-Fi Music Player ($158) is a great way to get internet music sources out into the air. If you haven’t yet looked at what’s available over the net, it’s truly amazing. — Wayne Ruffner

I have been trying to pick locks since I was a child. I have many lock picks I have bought or made myself over the years, but never saw what I was doing until I was given a clear plastic padlock ($11) a few months ago. Now I can plainly see the pins, driver pins, sheer line and springs etc. (By the way hairpins and paper clips will open padlocks.) – Kent Barnes

I have been using a Dino-Lite USB microscope ($399) for both work and home projects for the past several years. It has a magnification of 20x-50x and 200x with a 1.3MP resolution. For my work as an electrical engineer it is great for looking at and capturing solder joints on very small pitch components, very fine PCB trace routing, reading part codes off small components and looking at connector alignment/damage. — Matt Schirmacher

Want more? Check out our other 2016 gift picks as well as our 2015 Gift Guide, 2014 Gift Guide and our 2103 Gift Guide

12/5/16 -- Mark Frauenfelder

04 December 2016


Galapagos/Amazon Fresh/QALO

Recomendo: issue no. 19

A tour in the Galapagos was one of our best vacations ever. There are no hotels so you live on a boat, which travels during the night so you wake up in the cove of a different island each morning. Each island is a different biome (inspiring the idea of evolution for Darwin). You spend the day actively hiking around the islands encountering myriad perfectly tame animals and birds. While there are large cruise boats, the key is to sail on a small boat to minimize transit times ashore. Go to Happy Gringo to find diverse small boat tours, rated by previous customers. They are utterly reliable and ⅓ the cost of others. — KK

Amazon Fresh is Amazon’s grocery shopping and delivery service. They sell everything a large supermarket sells, often at better prices. You can sometimes get same day delivery, but it usually takes 24 hours. This is a huge time saver for our family. You must be an Amazon prime member. Here’s how to get an Amazon Prime 30-Day free trial. — MF

I bought my husband a QALO ring to wear while he’s cycling/working out and he loves how it’s so well-made and comfortable. It’s made out of medical grade silicone and it doesn’t look like a cheap rubber ring. I like how it looks on him so much I want to start wearing one. — CD

I don’t get on a plane unless I am wearing Bose QuiteComfort 20 Noise Cancelling earbuds. These squeeze into a tiny super-lightweight pocket when off (unlike the headphone variety), and are simply the best noise cancelling apparatus, period. I routinely wear them the entire duration of a 13-hour flight. I arrive far more refreshed. — KK

My friend Cory Doctorow gave me a pair of Native Jefferson Slip-On Sneakers about 4 years ago, and I haven’t worn any other kind of shoe since. They are made from the same rubber as Crocs, but they look better. I don’t wear socks with them. They are very easy to slip on and off at airport security, too. — MF

I stopped watching horror movies a while back, because they seemed to be getting more and more graphic and I couldn’t cut it. Instead, I enjoy reading scene-by-scene spoilers for all the films I am too scared or lazy to watch. The Movie Spoiler is not the best designed site, but it’s been around for a long time and all the reviews are well written. — CD

Get the Recomendo weekly newsletter a week early by email.

12/4/16 -- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson

02 December 2016


Teva Sport Sandals

Comfortable, durable, healthy, versatile sandals

I can’t believe Teva Sandals haven’t been recommended here yet. I have worn various models of Teva sandals for 25 years.


– They are comfortable. The straps do not chafe, but are plenty durable. The velcro fastening allows quick adjustments, even if your feet swell, and even if you wear socks. They also have soft, cushy but resilient midsoles, with varying degrees of arch support.

– They are durable. For me, they last at least five summers of near-continuous wear. I replace them when the tread wears away in spots, though I don’t really need to. I have never worn the soles through to the midsoles. The straps never wear out, though the velcro eventually loses some of its grip. The velcro would be easy to replace, but I have never done it.

– They are healthy. With your feet mostly open to the air, you do not develop athlete’s foot or other fungal infections. You do not develop calluses or blisters. (You may develop a “Teva tan” however, where the straps leave a characteristic pattern on your feet.)

– They are versatile. Originally developed for rafting, they are secure, protective and grippy enough for all sorts of sports. I have played volleyball, gone hiking in Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo mountains, and toured Greece in mine. They are unaffected by water and dry quickly on your feet. With socks, they are wearable in surprisingly cold days. (The soles are all non-marking, incidentally.) You can wear them on more occasions than you might other sandals, to the ultimate benefit of your feet.

– With the Microban zinc treatment, the stinky Teva problem is gone. The sandals are stink-free, and stay that way for the life of the sandals.

– They are reasonably priced, $50 to $100, though often available for cheaper.

– There is a huge variety of models, including leather versions, flip flops, slides, models that enclose your foot to varying degrees, etc. There is even a sheepskin-lined version. But the Original Universal model is the cheapest and works great. The Hudson, Hurricane, Katavi and Terra Fi models have more aggressive soles, plus Microban, nylon shanks, and midsoles with more arch support. I prefer models without leather like the Hurricane, because leather absorbs water and dirt, darkens and stains with use and generally shows its wear, while the synthetic materials look new for years.


– They might be too casual for some settings. But that also depends on what else you are wearing. I used to wear them with khakis and button-down shirts to work in a tall office building all the time.

– I suppose there has to be one part that wears out faster than the rest. For Teva’s, it is the velcro. But it would be easy to replace the velcro, not even an evening’s work with needle and thread.

– I think there are no other disadvantages. They aren’t suited to climbing K2, working in building demolition, or attending a funeral, but you knew that already.

There are other sport sandals, notably Chaco’s and Keen’s. Chaco’s are great if their footbed fits your foot (for me they don’t.) They are notably thicker and heavier than Tevas, and more expensive. Keen’s are also great (I wear their shoes and boots all winter), but they are more elaborate, heavier and expensive than Tevas, though there is overlap. I wear Keen sandals for riding my bike, and Tevas for everything else. If I had to choose a current model, I might go for the Hurricane. It has Microban, a nylon shank, a nice molded midsole and footbed, and their more durable sole, but no leather, and it costs only $60. Their higher-end Terra-fi is much the same, but with a stickier but less durable outsole. And for the record, it is pronounced “teh-vah,” not “tee-vah.” It is the Hebrew word for nature.

12/2/16 -- Karl Chwe


img 12/1/16

Dymo Plastic Label Embosser

Fantastic for art projects

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Floyd Table Legs

Table legs that attach to a flat surface to create a table

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Free recipe manager

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Cool Tools 2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Podcaster’s choice

Favorite gift ideas from the guests of the Cool Tools Show

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Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms

More than 700 common American phrases, sayings, and expressions

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CargoRAXX – unrecommended

This appears to be a shill review. Many thanks to Cool Tools reader Matthew Connor for looking into this. He wrote:

Meaghan Hollywood works for CargoRAXX. Meaghan Hollywood put a review up quasi-anonymously on Amazon. A similarly worded review is now anonymously on KK.org.

On Amazon there are two reviews for the product (https://www.amazon.com/CargoRAXX-S1A-Interior-Management-System/dp/B01A6X4MBS). Neither is attributed by name but the one from January 18th, 2016 refers to “my Tahoe” and read similar to the KK.org review. Let us suppose the author is, in fact, the same person.

Clicking on the name for the review – merely “Amazon Customer” brings up their profile (https://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A1CF94IIWSAE00/ref=cm_cr_dp_pdp). This profile contains one Wish List on the left side. Clicking on it revels – the name of “Amazon Customer” – it is Meaghan Hollywood.

Ok. I believe at this point the author of the KK review and the author of at least one of the two reviews on Amazon are in fact the same person and that person’s name is Meaghan Hollywood.

Here’s the kicker, CargoRAXX has a website with a blog feature – their blogger’s name is Meaghan Hollywood. (http://cargoraxx.com/5-reasons-re-organize-suv/)

About Cool Tools

Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.

13632766_602152159944472_101382480_oKevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

13918651_603790483113973_1799207977_oMark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Dawson runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is cl {at} kk.org.